CUMBERLAND — L.L. Bean’s President and CEO Christopher McCormick must take down the stone wall and cedar stockade fence that sparked a years-long legal fight with his neighbors over access to the water.
Residents of Dean’s Way in Cumberland Foreside have long used a trail on an easement that runs along the boundary between McCormick’s waterfront property and that of his neighbors. The trail serves as a footpath to a small beach on Broad Cove. Residents also drive vehicles on it to carry small watercraft to the beach.
Neighbors argued in the court case that McCormick altered the course of the trail when he installed the wall and fence more than three years ago. They also complained that they couldn’t maneuver their vehicles around the corner created by the junction of the wall and the fence.
The Maine Supreme Judicial court sided with the neighbors last month, ruling that any relocation of the easement would have to provide “equally as convenient and beneficial” access to the ocean as existed previously.
“They were determined to protect their rights — no matter who was infringing them,” said John Bannon, the lawyer who represented property owners on Dean’s Way who don’t have waterfront lots.
The legal dispute began in 2008, after McCormick got permission from the state Department of Environmental Protection to make improvements to the trail and the portion of the 20-foot-wide easement that fell on his property.
He cleared and landscaped his portion of the easement, put in a low stone wall that angled off his driveway and installed a fence that runs most of the way to the shore. His neighbors Michael and Moira LaChance appealed McCormick’s DEP permit to the state Board of Environmental Protection, raising questions about whether the right of way had been improperly moved.
A series of legal actions ensued.
McCormick filed a complaint in Cumberland County Superior Court, arguing that the deed from 2001, when he bought the property, reflected a different location for the easement.
Filings by the LaChances, back-lot owners and McCormick followed, and the Superior Court ultimately ruled in favor of the neighbors.
The case then went to the Supreme Court, which decided in McCormick’s favor in April.
The neighbors asked for reconsideration, arguing that the court had overlooked some points. The case was reargued, and last month the high court affirmed the Superior Court’s decision for the neighbors.
McCormick has 30 days to remove the wall and the fence, but there’s some question about the exact deadline, said Bannon. The clock may have started on Nov. 17, when the ruling was issued, or it may start today.
Peter Brann, McCormick’s lawyer, did not return a phone call seeking comment Wednesday.
Sigmund Schutz, the lawyer who represented the LaChances, declined to comment.
Charles Adams, an anesthesiologist who has owned his back lot for 25 years, said the easement represents a significant portion of his property’s value – an important factor should he ever sell his home. It’s also what gives the neighborhood its only access to swimming, fishing, clam-digging and launching boats at the beach, he said.
Neighbors could still walk down to the shore, with its view of Prince Point and Cousins Island. But Adams said the changes by McCormick made it hard to get his 24-foot-long rowing shell down to the water.
He used to tow it on a trailer, but he couldn’t make the corner when the wall and fence went up.
“I have managed to get it down there, but it’s more difficult,” he said. “And the obvious question is, why should it have to be more difficult when he broke the law, not us?”
Staff Writer Ann S. Kim can be contacted at 791-6383 or at: